New Year’s Eve

Kage Baker really enjoyed New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t a big party night for her – but the glittery formality of the late-night celebration appealed to her. We were usually home by 8 or 9 at night, and often never left the house after dark. Nonetheless, it was an occasion of ritual and solemnity, and she liked it. She had lots of small traditions.

It was the last night of the Christmas Tree, for one thing, which would always be the subject of many grateful toasts during the evening – having shone for us gallantly for a fortnight or so. It was a night for a feast – usually steaks and latkes, that being the meal she settled on in her 20’s; I think it was because she learned how to make latkes in the first place, and was always pleased with the trick. She made good ones, too.

If a royalty check had come, we sometimes went out to an early dinner in a really good restaurant, long before the serious partiers showed up. We usually went so early we literally had the restaurant to ourselves, which gave a grand patina of exclusivity to the evening. Kage would solemnly affix the sparkly ceremonial headband that came with dinner into her hair, and we’d get silly over champagne cocktails.

We always ended up the same way: watching the ball drop in Times Square at midnight, champagne bottle poised. As soon as it hit the ground, Kage would pop the cork and we’d stand out on our front porch and toast the New Year. We always made the same resolution – to survive.

Last year … Kage was in the hospital, recovering slowly from brain surgery. Her balance was lousy, but improving; she refused to eat the hospital food, but as long as I brought her meals, she did at least eat. She wasn’t in pain, she was lucid, she was hopeful. She just wasn’t getting much better. Nonetheless, she was in a good mood and determined to get home for the holiday.

When it became obvious that she could not wheedle a release before the New Year, we made plans for our own celebration. Sister Anne and her daughters Katie and Annie promised to come up and see Kage on New Year’s Day. I brought coloured electric candles, confetti poppers, our red crystal champagne glasses and sparkling cider to the hospital; I brought steaks and latkes. And we settled down to wait for the Ball to drop, whiling away the time – as we usually did – watching old Twilight Zone episodes.

Kage ate a bite of steak, a bite of latke. She drank a lot of Martinelli’s cider. We reminisced, I read her the day’s batch of well-meaning fan letters (she got hundreds during her illness) and a few chapters of P.G. Wodehouse. And the Ball duly dropped, as that dapper zombie Dick Clark proclaimed a New Year was upon us. The nurses being out at the nursing station, I brought out the split of real champagne I had smuggled in, and filled our glasses.

“The usual resolution: to survive!” declared Kage.

We drank, and she added, “As long as we can, as well as we can.”

And so I knew that she knew, too.

She fell asleep not long after that. I drove home in the dark alone on New Year’s, for the first time in my life.

Tomorrow: New Year’s Day